Notes from the Field | A dumpster full of weeds

What do we do with all these weeds at Ravenswood Pond?? Thanks to Budget Dumpster for helping us get rid of all those invasives.

Over the past few months Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team has had to adapt our programs because of the severe drought we are experiencing throughout California.  The warm weather and lack of rain has curtailed our ability to plant native seedlings and in many cases non-native invasive species, like slenderleaf iceplant, have begun to germinate early.  In order to manage these new issues, we have been fortunate enough to have an army of dedicated volunteers, park rangers, and companies who have stepped up to help. Together, we’ve spent countless hours watering and mulching existing seedlings and weeding those pesky invasives that are now competing against the native plants.

We’ve been lucky to get help from some unexpected places. Recently, we were contacted by Kevin Robert Rossignol, who is the Outreach Coordinator for Budget Dumpster.  As luck would have it Kevin offered us a free dumpster bin rental, which usually cost around 400 dollars to rent!

Now you might ask, why would Save The Bay need a dumpster?  Well, the location of some of our sites makes it difficult to dispose of invasive non-native weeds like slender leaf ice plant.  Sometimes we have to resort to composting these weeds them on site.  Since these plants can easily spread from the compost pile and be reintroduced to the restoration site, it’s best to get rid of these plants all together.  Our restoration site at Ravenswood Open Space Preserve in Menlo Park needed some tender love and care and with Budget Dumpster’s generous donation we were able to remove hundreds of pounds of invasive species.

Budget Dumpster donates dumpster bin rentals to various organizations every quarter and I just wanted to give a big thanks to Kevin Rossignol and all those at Budget Dumpster for their help!

Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team adapts to severe drought

The lack of rain has severely impacted our planting season.
The lack of rain has severely impacted our planting season.

Did anyone notice that wet stuff coming out of the sky over the weekend? That inch of rain brought all bay area residents some hope, but California will need much much more. So while the Midwest, east coast and even the south are experiencing polar vortices and freezing artic storms, out west we are baking under 80 degree weather.

The drought, now officially designated by Governor Brown, has become THE topic of conversation. From farmers in the central valley to ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada everyone seems to be feeling the effects of this drought.

The lack of rain has certainly affected Save The Bay’s community-based habitat restoration programs. If you have signed to volunteer with us recently, you may have noticed a disclaimer that reads: Attention volunteers! Please note that due to the drought, all restoration activities are subject to change. 

The winter marks the most exciting time of the year for the thousands of volunteers who have worked so hard to remove invasive species and grow native plants for our restoration sites. During this stage of the restoration cycle, volunteers and restoration staff work together to plant 40,000 native seedlings along the Bay shoreline. But after two months of negligible rain the planting season has ground to a screeching halt. Instead of spending my days planting with volunteers, the drought has forced me to focus on watering the plants that have already been planted.

Jon Backus, Save The Bay’s Restoration Project Manager explained the difficulties to a recent volunteer, “We depend on the winter rains for supplemental watering after the volunteers have planted. The lack of rain has created a daunting task. We have 6 restoration sites around the Bay and thousands of little seedlings that are struggling through this dry weather.

In order to reach our goals for the year and give the plants the best chance of survival Save The Bay’s Restoration team has become a mobile rain cloud, driving around to our various sites with hundreds of gallons of water in tow. Instead of having volunteers plant 1,000 plants during a program we stick with a more manageable goal. Quality over quantity is our mantra.

Many volunteers are surprised at the amount of water we are giving the seedlings. The common misconception is that because a plant is a California native or drought tolerant that the lack of rain will not be a problem. But, the reality is that even drought tolerant plants need water to become established. It can take up to 5 months for a little seedling to take root, especially in the degraded soils that we are trying to restore.

Even with some sprinkles in the forecast for this week, the only way to ensure the survival of our remaining plants is to hold them over for another year. Instead of planting, some volunteers will be giving the plants more room to grow by transplanting them into larger containers. With our nurseries already full I encourage any tetris or jigsaw puzzle champions to join in helping us fit these plants AND the new plants for next season! In the meantime let’s keep our fingers crossed and those rain dancin’ shoes on and maybe mother nature will surprise us.

We need your help more than ever during this dry winter. Sign up to volunteer with us this season.


Notes from the Field | Give your time this holiday season

Give back to the Bay this holiday season.
Give back to the Bay this holiday season.

The holiday season is upon us! The winter chill is finally settling in and hopefully it will bring some much-needed rain and snow. Now is the time we give thanks for our family, friends, and community – and many local residents want to give back. We all live around the bay, but how often do we get a chance give back to it?

Here’s a list of some volunteer opportunities I know throughout the Bay Area. By donating a little of your time, you can make a big difference in both the health of our local environment and build a stronger community in the spirit of the season.

Environmental Volunteers
Since 1972, this nonprofit has provided training to volunteers about the importance of Bay Area ecosystems. Why not learn more about your natural environment while helping to bring the bay to local classrooms, or by taking kids on educational nature walks in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties?

Audubon Canyon Ranch
Headquartered in a beautiful canyon next to the Bolinas Lagoon, this organization offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, including participating in bird surveys, planting native plants, and even docent training.

Marine Mammal Center
You love marine mammals, look no further. You can get up close and personal by rescuing stranded animals and providing them care, or support educational and administrative programs in Sausalito. They offer special programs for youth (ages 15-18).

Golden Gate Audubon Society
If birds are what you’re interested in, the popular Golden Gate Audubon Society has restoration projects throughout the bay area focusing on restoring habitat for resident and migrating birds. As a special holiday bonus join the thousands of citizen scientists taking part in the National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas bird count!

Friends of Sausal Creek
This community association is a great example of people can come together to help better this riparian area and recreation zone in their own backyard. Come volunteer with Friends of Sausal Creek and get inspired to organize a group to help protect and restore a resource in your own neighborhood!

Literacy For Environmental Justice
Serving San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood, this group works with local youth to create a more healthy and sustainable community helping clean polluted areas and providing healthy food access to low income residents. You can volunteer at their native plant nursery and community garden in Candlestick Point or for a restoration project near Yosemite Slough.

Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley
Learn about the wildlife living right in your own backyard, from hawks and deer to even coyotes and bobcats. This organization takes in ill and injured wildlife from all around the South Bay and provides an opportunity for the public to help in many different ways, like caring from sick animals at their rehabilitation center in San Jose or writing for their newsletter.

Point Blue Conservation Science
Formerly known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, this well respected organization supports research and community involvement in learning how local ecosystems will be impacted by climate change. Most volunteer opportunities are in the North Bay, and include shorebird surveys, education programs, working in their lab, or even contribute just by having fun on their iNaturalist app.

Of course, Save The Bay’s own Restoration Team has entered planting season, so be sure to come on down to the shoreline and help us plant the over 40,000 seedlings our volunteers worked so hard to propagate.

We are blessed in the Bay Area to have a strong legacy of environmental stewardship represented by countless organizations and groups working to make our home a better place to live in.

So give back and learn something new this holiday season!

The organizations I listed above are just a few examples and I encourage everyone to search out your local groups that are organizing their communities to protect and restore our bay.

Do you know any other organizations? Post them in the comments below.


Notes from the Field | Landscapes and Languages: The shaping of California

Linguistic diversity of California
California’s ecological diversity led to linguistic diversity among its earliest inhabitants. Map credit: Brian Codding, University of Utah

The diversity of the California landscape has contributed to the diversity of all of its inhabitants, human and otherwise. It has also shaped and been shaped by the diversity of our human goals, desires, and cultures over time.

When I look out across the bay I am often struck by how our cities and infrastructure interact with the physical landscape.  We have engineered nature to create a static environment, taking human development outside the confines of our complex inter-connected habitat.  It’s hard to imagine the bay without the bridges or city skylines, but there was a time when the birds outnumbered humans 10 to 1, blackening the sky as they flew overhead. Grizzly bears, elk, coyotes, badger, gray fox, Tule elk, bobcat, and mountain lions were more common than smart cars. Instead of freeways and bridges,  a morning commute involved traversing streams, creeks, and rivers, which flowed uninterrupted, fanning out into the bay through a vast network of fresh and salt marshes.

The Bay Area was and still is an incredibly dynamic and diverse set of interdependent ecosystems.  The San Francisco Bay, with its immense safe harbor and 40% of California’s fresh water pulsing in from the delta, is one of the most productive landscapes on the face of the planet.

This diversity is echoed throughout the state. Nowhere in the world can one find such diverse and unique topography than in California.  From the high glaciated peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the parched Mojave desert, the volcanic history of Shasta and Lassen to the prairies and oak woodlands spread across the central valley, to the beaches of the rugged coastline, California seems to have it all.

A recent paper published by Brian Codding of the University of Utah and Terry Jones of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo took a look at how the California landscape was responsible for creating diverse cultures among the first human inhabitants.

8,000 years ago, the Ohlone and Coast Miwok people began to take advantage of the abundant resources the bay had to offer. They lived together in very loose groups, held together by language and the topography of the country much more than by any political or social organization; distinct tribes, as they occur in many other parts of America, did not really exist. The small village was the most common unit of organization among these people.

According to Jones and Codding,  the ecological diversity of the region created distinct languages and cultures among the people who inhabited the land. The indigenous people of California have spoken over 300 dialects of one hundred distinct languages. These loosely defined groups migrated throughout California and colonized the state, first settling the richest ecosystems, particularly along the Pacific coastline.

Human migration to California is still shaped by our relationship to the land. California is a bastion of diversity and creativity due in large part to the health and vitality of the natural world that surrounds us. The way in which we use these abundant resources here defines who we are as a people.  Looking at the history of the indigenous people who came before can help us understand our place in the landscape–both the opportunities we have to protect it and the risks we pose.

It’s up to us the protect and restore the natural wonders in our own backyard. One way to do that is to have a hand in directly restoring vital salt marsh habitat, for ourselves, wildlife, and future generations.

5 Ways to Enjoy the Bay


Sailing on SF Bay
Photo by Rick Lewis.

Save The Bay’s restoration team and dedicated volunteers have been hard at work this summer making sure those pesky invasive plants are removed while watering the thousands of native plants that were installed during last winter. This Saturday July 20th, Save The Bay and REI are partnering for the 2nd annual Ring Around the Bay Day. Get outside with us and help restore the Bay. Sign up today!

We love working on the Bay, but we also love to play. I asked my Restoration Team what they have been up to this summer. Here are 5 fun ways to appreciate San Francisco Bay:

1. Boating. If you have been lucky enough come out to one of our Saturday public restoration events you have probably met Jon, known around the office as our “Inspector of Ingenious Innovation”. Jon works as the Restoration Project Specialist, but in between tending to his enormous garden or practicing his banjo he is learning to sail. He is well on his way to receiving his Junior Skipper certificate after long hours learning all the ins and outs of sailing on the Bay. “I grew up here and went to school at UC Berkeley, but I had never really experienced the Bay. Now I get to go out on the water and enjoy the bay up close and personal!” If you want to learn how to sail check out Cal Sailing Club.

Many of my co-workers that they have begun using the ferry more (especially during the BART strike) and they are even planning a trip to Angel Island. Many of the marshes that surround the Bay have canoe and kayak launches that can give you a unique opportunity to bird watch and explore the nooks and crannies of the salt marsh.

2. Mountain Biking. Seth is Save The Bay’s Restoration Program Manager and an avid outdoor enthusiast. When he is not running rivers as a guide in the Sierra foothills (which he explained was a part of the SF Bay’s watershed) he loves mountain biking around China Camp State Park. This park is a beautiful example of relict salt and brackish marsh with untouched upland transitional habitat.

3. Hiking. Check out the Bay Trail. It was not too long ago that the San Francisco Bay was in dire need of help. By the late 1950’s there were only about 4 miles of publicly accessible shoreline and unregulated pollution flowed freely into our water. With the help of people all across the Bay Area we have made the bay not just a body of water to drive over, but a place for every person to enjoy.

4. Rock climbing. When I asked Doug, our Nursery Manager and jack of almost all trades (he has yet to learn the rules to Jai Alai), how he has been enjoying his summer he told me about his urban rock climbing adventures. One of the best places to rock climb which puts the bay front and center is Indian Rock in Berkeley.

5. Kite flying. I was recently working at one of our many restoration sites and as the fog burned off I began to feel the summer heat. Invasive fennel is no joke! As I pick axed my way through another massive fennel plant I was beginning to feel the initial eagerness to take on such a formidable foe waning with every bead of sweat dripping off my head. But then, the cool bay breeze began to blow giving me a respite from the midday sun. I use that wonderful bay wind to my advantage when my friends and I go to Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley to fly kites. I never realized how much fun it could be to be tugged around by the wind! There are many parks right on the bay that provide a perfect opportunity to fly a kite.

I hope you enjoy the Bay this summer. Come join us for a restoration event near you. What are your favorite ways to enjoy the Bay? Tell us in the comments below.